July 2009

Parent’s fury at ‘laughable’ sentence for social worker who downloaded hundreds of child porn images

A social worker who worked with disabled youngsters has been jailed for downloading child pornography.

Michael Tombs, 33, downloaded the pornography while taking disabled children on trips to the seaside in his capacity as a social worker at scandal-hit Doncaster Council.

The council’s children’s services fell under the national spotlight earlier this year when the department was labelled ‘chaotic and dangerous’ by an education watchdog.

Eight serious case reviews were ordered after children in the borough died as a result of abuse or neglect.

Today Tombs was jailed for just six weeks after admitting five offences of making indecent photographs of children between May 1, 2006 and April 1, 2008.

It emerged that he had been waiting 15 months to be sentenced yet nobody from Doncaster Council bothered to inform the parents of youngsters under his care about his sordid secret.

Outside court Keith Cheshire, 45, whose mentally and physically handicapped 15-year-old daughter went on outings with Tombs said: ‘The sentence is laughable. It is absolutely disgusting.

‘He worked with disabled children and a lot of them including my own daughter are unable to talk.

‘What if he has laid hands on them? Nobody can say one way or the other. Our children cannot talk for themselves.

‘He was put in a position of trust by Doncaster Council and has abused that trust. This so-called justice is farcical.’

Doncaster Crown Court heard Tombs, a single man who lived with his parents in Thorne, near Doncaster came from a respectable family.

His parents are both childcare workers with North Lincolnshire Council and were suspended when his offending came to light.

He was employed as a social worker by Doncaster Council from May, 2003 and only resigned when he was arrested in April, 2008.

Tombs also worked for other local authorities, running his own ‘one man’ company Michael Tombs Childcare Services – ironically offering training in childcare and working with disabled children.

He was a primary school governor and was about to stand as a Labour candidate in Thorne for a seat on Doncaster Council before his arrest.

Prosecutor Neil Coxon said of the 397 indecent images of  images of children found on his computer and a hard drive device most were at level one, the least serious classification.

But he gave a second laptop to a 14-year-old girl after be befriended the family and had previously deleted child porn images which the police recovered. One image was at level five, the most serious classification, and 36 at level four.

Tombs admitted he was responsible for downloading the porn ‘out of curiosity’ during police interviews.

He also admitted behaving unprofessionally in sending ‘inappropriate’ messages to the 14-year-old girl who it is accepted did not have access to the images.

Tombs told police he began file sharing and swapping adult porn on the internet then began to receive images of child porn.

He said he was ‘quite shocked’ as they were ‘vulgar and gross’ but did not alert the authorities. ‘He was fearful his career would be brought to an end,’ said Mr Coxon.

Tombs told officers: ‘I was looking at the images thinking “I know it’s wrong” and at the same time getting some kind of sexual gratification.’

The court heard he worked on a 1-1 or 1-2 basis with disabled children and their families, taking them to the seaside, cinemas, bowling and theme parks.

He had just been awarded a £25,000 contract with Doncaster Council a few days before his arrest.

He also worked in the community and with after school clubs and acted in a more senior role with the council covering for sickness and holidays.

Tombs travelled nationwide in the course of his private training work for those in childcare and child protection.

He described his arrest as ‘like there being a death in the family’ and said he was still grieving.

Richard Haigh, for Tombs, said until his arrest he was regarded as a ‘hard-working, responsible and respectable man’ and often worked seven days a week.

He was now ‘hideously embarrassed’ and had lost his career and political ambitions.

There was no suggestion he had behaved inappropriately with any child during his work.

Recorder Andrew Campbell told Tombs: ‘It is quite clear you downloaded those images for your sexual gratification.’

He said it was an aggravating feature that Tombs was working with children for Doncaster Council and running a business advising those involved in child protection.

‘It is as stark a difference between your working persona and your private persona that these courts have come across,’ he said.

The judge went on: ‘People who involve themselves in the machinery of child abuse must expect an immediate custodial sentence.’

Tombs was made the subject of a Sex Offenders Prevention Order and banned from working with children.

He will serve half his six-week term before being released on licence.

The first time the parents of children under Tombs’ care knew about his behaviour was three weeks ago when he admitted his guilt at an earlier hearing.

Mr Cheshire said: ‘We have not even had a phone call from the council to say what had happened. We should have been told.

‘As with everything at Doncaster Council’s children’s services department over recent months they have tried to sweep it all under the carpet. They don’t want to take any responsibility.

‘I came across Tombs quite often and felt he was a bit of an oddie. I never liked him but I never thought he would stoop as low as this.

‘He seemed quite chuffed at his sentence and relieved that he has got away with it.’

Doncaster Council say they made stringent checks including a criminal record bureau check before employing Tombs, who has no previous convictions.

The council received positive references and Tombs had worked for other authorities.

‘There was no way anyone could have known about this,’ said a spokesman.